Is prayer perhaps an underappreciated activity?
It seems preposterous to even question prayer. Obviously Christians believe in the power of prayer. It’s our default reaction when we don’t know what to do in a given situation. Tragedy strikes, death occurs, sickness is diagnosed, injustice is recognized…we pray for those involved hoping God will hear and respond. But we also want action. We want to load a truck to take supplies to those dealing with flooding. We want to bake a meal and take it to those who have experienced sickness. We want to march to stand up to racism. We pray, but we also want action.
Yet I’ve been wondering recently, is our desire for action a subtle hint that we trust action more than prayer?
It’s interesting to me that the night before his death, after the Last Supper but before the arrest Jesus spent the evening in prayer. Jesus’s face had been set toward Jerusalem for a long time; basically his whole life. Jesus’s purpose always involved Jerusalem. That’s where he was heading. And in the most stressful time of Jesus’s Earthly life, Jesus spent the hours in prayer. Yes, he was wrestling with inner feelings and a human desire to avoid pain and suffering. But more so I wonder if he was also reminding us that the only way to face the most difficult struggles is not attacking the struggle, but through prayer. Perhaps Jesus was trying to tell us that prayer is our secret weapon; the tool in our toolbox that can overcome the powers of evil. What if prayer is actually the weapon that will defeat the enemy?
I wonder, what would happen if we embraced this logic? What would happen if we decided in times of trouble, especially when we didn’t know what to do, we decided prayer was the most important response and we dedicated ourselves to prayer? What if we decided that the way to deal with crisis was not to try to fix it, but to spend hours and hours in prayer.
For instance, what if the way to deal with violence in our streets was prayer? When violence happens the debate rages between stricter gun laws and giving guns to more people. While I tend to favor stricter gun laws, I understand and appreciate the argument of armed security personal. Yet, outside of the political argument, what if we decided that our most important action was to become committed to praying for the violence to end? What if instead of thinking about placing armed guards in churches and schools, or petitioning the legislature to pass stricter laws, we actually spent hours in prayer for God’s kingdom to come? What if we committed as parents and grandparents, as friends and neighbors, to surround the schools of our neighborhoods, to walk the grounds, and pray? Our first reaction might be to think, well what good would it really do to pray, we need action. I don’t know, perhaps the best action is to pray more.
Or consider, how do we respond when a friend’s marriage is struggling? Often we try to help, we seek counseling, and we try to encourage positive responses. What if instead we became committed to praying for reconciliation? What if we organized prayer meetings for our faith community to spend time praying for those in our midst struggling, and we prayed by name? When confronted with relationship problems, I often don’t know exactly what to do anyway; but I know how to pray. Maybe I should do that more?
Consider racism and injustice. Consider economic discrepancies. Consider war. Could we not commit to spending more time in prayer? Would it make a difference? Could it make a difference?
Prayer is obviously not a magic pill. It doesn’t take away the need for action. It doesn’t relieve us of the need to hand out food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, or shelter to the homeless. Just praying won’t make war end, or cancer go away.
Still I wonder, could prayer be the tool to help change the world? Could it be that what the world needs for peace is more people praying? What the world needs for healing, is more people praying. What the world needs to solve the problems plaguing the world is more people praying.
Jesus entered the most stressful moment of his life and prayed intently. Perhaps we should do the same.